Monday, May 2, 2011

New Trails.com mobile app

I'm a huge fan of the website Trails.com. I use this site for researching trails on almost all of my trips. Recently, I discovered that Trails.com, one of my favorite sites on the web, released a new mobile app. I was very excited to give it a try. I was first disappointed that it was an iPhone app only, so it wasn't specifically designed for the iPad. This simply means it doesn't take full advantage of the entire real estate on the iPad, it assumes it will have a small amount of space to display content and interact with the user. It doesn't even rotate as most other apps do, but I can live with it.

One of the first steps to using the new app is to pick your regions, which equate to states and even parts of states, such as Northern California and Southern California. Once you've picked your regions, the app automatically downloads trail descriptions and some basic information locally. This makes doing initial research fast and doesn't require an internet connection. I can look through trail descriptions on the plane and even set them as favorites which allow me to easily come back to them later.

When connected to the network, I can download the full trail guide and see nearby trails to do even more research into finding the right trail for my next trip. Viewing the trail guides on the app is very nice. I can zoom in and look at elevation profiles and trail distances, plus detailed descriptions.

Overall, so far, I've been fairly pleased with the app.

Now, some items I wish they would fix in the next version, assuming there's a next version.
  • Improved search - The search now is limited to the name and the city as far as I can tell. It doesn't seem to search on the description, which isn't the full description anyway.
  • Filtering and ordering search results - I'd like to see the ability to filter or order the search results by trail distances, difficulty, rating, etc.
  • Rating from the app - It would be nice to be able to view Member Ratings and Member Comments and be able to rate trails directly from the app
  • Like Trails - It would be nice to suggest trails that are "like" trails I've looked at based on distance, difficulty and region.
  • Recommend Trails - This is something I'd like to see on the main site as well. Based on my profile and trail viewing history, recommend trails that I might want to see.
  • iPad specific app - Viewing the trail guides would be much easier if the app was built for the iPad, leveraging the larger screen size.
One of the keys for Trails.com to make this a killer app, would be to invest some time in data quality and add some much needed features. For example:
  • What's the difference between difficult and strenuous?
  • What is moderately strenuous?
  • What type of person are the difficulties rated on? I'm assuming that they are based on fit, experienced hikers.
  • Maybe allow members to rate their physical ability and in addition to rating the trail as 1-5 stars, maybe rate it for difficulty.
  • Separating out Backpacking (overnight) from Hiking (day hikes)
  • Adding several search/filter criteria, including starting and peak elevation, elevation gain/loss, type of hike (loop, out-and-back, point-to-point, etc.), overnight (and typical # of days) vs. day hikes, trail distance, mixed use trail or not (are you hiking with pack trains or not), water accessibility
I think a lot of this data is going to need to come from the community. It would be nice if it were made sort of like a Wiki where members could edit / correct trail beta.

If you haven't checked it out, I highly recommend Trails.com and their new app. And Trails.com, if you happen to read this, I'd love to talk to you about enhancement ideas.

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